Hampi: Notes on Departure

by sunil on August 29, 2008

I left Hampi on a Volvo 9400, a symbol of the liberalization that transformed the landscape of South India. Sturdy and elegant, it stood out in an otherwise unremarkable bus station. What Volvo did to Road Transport system of South India is a bit of unsung story.  Before Volvo started its operations in 2001, access by land to any place in India less than a metro was, owing to either the condition of the roads or the efficiency of the decrepit road transport system, a pain – in all possible sense of the word. But soon after Volvo was introduced, the world shrunk into a miniature playground. Suddenly, even the farthest tip of Kerala or the hills of Tirupati was just a night away and without any painkillers. Instead you got a refreshing bottle of mineral water.

The Interior of the 9400 was modified, with seats and overhead cabins converted into a series of berths of twos and ones on either side of the aisle. This was new. Though it reduced the number of passengers, the idea, I thought was not all bad. Like in the days of the notorious Leyland Panthers there was no misery to pack oneself in half a box of seatspace with a snoring Bengali seated beside. On a Volvo with new arrangement, one could lie down in a mini enclosure of his own.

I located my mini-bunk at the far end of the bus and snuggled in. It wasn’t as comfortable as it looked at first, but it was worth every penny than that of business class British Airways. I experimented with a few possibilities before aligning myself in the most comfortable of positions. I considered taking down some of the dictations made in the day, but the jaunts of the ruins all morning in the scorching sun had left my being totally exhausted. So instead, I lazily switched on the iPod and laid there gazing through the window.

It was an experience watching the world at such an unique elevation from this sort of midprone gaze. The world looked like a space hidden in an oyster handshake between the land and the sky. The smooth moving Volvo made it a slow silent disney animation of a sort.

The road was flanked by a series of trees planted by the department of forest; they ran one after another, equidistant and almost identical with concentric circles painted around their torsos; they looked almost endless and were only interrupted by settlements, shops or small villages . Beyond them, spead all across was vast hinterland – there was no grass, no fields, no weeds, no vegetation – nothing. Except for a faint hint of distant hills the whole region looked glabrous and widowed. The earth was parched and the sky forsaken. Night started falling at its own pace.

Old glories notwithstanding it is surprising to see how the region so desolate, with no real spectacular attraction in a post modern sense, continues to attract so many visitors from all over the world.

As I wondered about such things of the day,  the volvo went past a million things beside the road : creaky old cars, a large herd of cattle returning home, huts springing up here and there with dimgrey smoke rising lazily through their narrow chimneys – perhaps a supper being cooked?, vendors on their rickety cycles, a train of trucks parked roadside for a break , women carrying water, a congregation of men sharing a joke with their tea in small tea stall. The montage rolled past like an Eisenstein’s cut.

One by one I let all the thoughts they evoked wash over me. I wondered how it was to be one of them, to be so content, so assured when being so very aware that they are so oblivious. It was inexplicable. I must have pondered a while because I did not notice that we had stopped.  A crowd had gathered into a mini road block as one of the trucks had run into a tree. The driver had been taken to a nearest hospital.  The incident must have been a few hours old and a small crowd around it seemed settled with all their speculations. The driver was suspected to be driving under the influence. After everyone on the bus had satisfied their curiosity, we slowly made our way.

I went back to my window and found the sky changing its character. The distant hills had vanished and the air was filled with anticipation. Suddenly, as though attending a call, clouds of all form and shape started hovering in from all directions. The temperature dropped and light faded in a few minutes.

It was so sudden, it was magical. I watched it with a sense of awe.

The ipod  started playing amelie soundtrack. And as if to match the crescendo of Yann Tarsien’s notes conveyed through the tiny white tubes to my ears, the sky built up its symphony note by note to its highest pitch, and then gracefully like an opera singer climaxing her note into silence, it all went still for a moment.  Just a fraction of a moment later, it opened up pouring the most furious rain I had seen that hastened to meet the dry earth as fast as it could. It was incredible.

The world in one space of a ipod song had transformed from nothing to marvelous. Through the rear window I could see rain splashing the wet road as it  trailed off into an eternity.  As I gazed at that road, I thought this could have been anywhere: Texas, Kenya, France. But it wasn’t. It was a remote corner somewhere in south India. It occurred to me, in a world when ipods are named for the time duration in which they can be rebuilt , here was a place where a great empire was just once, now forgotten, unclaimed in time. But then what is the worth of anything when you think of time in terms of A Brahman who’s  breath is a billions of years?

The rain stopped after a good while; through the sealed window, I could almost smell the ozone of the rained earth. It smelt like how it exactly did when I was a six year old – marvelous.

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